Color Managed Workflow

What is a Color Managed Workflow

A color managed workflow is a process of ensuring consistent and accurate color reproduction throughout the entire digital imaging pipeline, from capture to display to print. A color managed workflow involves the use of color profiles, which are mathematical descriptions of how different devices interpret and reproduce colors. By applying the appropriate color profiles to the images and the devices, a color managed workflow can reduce or eliminate color discrepancies and errors.

A typical color managed workflow consists of the following steps:

1. Capture: The first step is to capture the image using a digital camera or a scanner. The image should be saved in a raw format, which preserves the original color information without any loss or alteration. The raw image should also be tagged with the color profile of the capture device, which describes how the device captures colors.

2. Process: The next step is to process the raw image using a software application such as Adobe Camera Raw or Adobe Photoshop. The software should be configured to use the color profile of the capture device as the source profile, and the color profile of the working space as the destination profile. The working space is a standard color space that is used for editing and manipulating images, such as Adobe RGB or sRGB. The software should also be calibrated and profiled to match the monitor, which is the device used to display the image on the screen. The monitor profile describes how the monitor displays colors, and ensures that the image on the screen matches the image in the working space.

3. Output: The final step is to output the image to the desired medium, such as a printer, projector, or a web browser. The image should be converted from the working space to the output profile, which describes how the output device reproduces colors. The output profile should be chosen based on the type and characteristics of the output device, such as the ink, paper, or screen. When printing, the ICC profile conversion will happen during the ripping process (raster image processing) - and is done by the printer. When outputting to a device with a screen, the output profile should also be embedded in the image file, which allows the output device with the screen to interpret and render the colors correctly.

By following these steps, a color managed workflow can achieve consistent and accurate color reproduction across different devices and media. A color managed workflow can also improve the quality and efficiency of the digital imaging process, as it reduces the need for trial and error and color adjustments. A color managed workflow is essential for professional photographers, designers, and artists who work with digital images and care about color fidelity and accuracy.

Northwest Fine Art Printing's Responsibilities

Our main responsibilities in the color managed workflow come mainly in step three (3) - output. We use a program called a Raster Image Processor (RIP) to process a file for printing and convert it into post script, which is a set of  instructions for the printer.  The RIP will use the input profile of the file and an algorithm called "Rendering Intent" along with the output profile for the specific printer and product (such as Natural Rag Paper or Gloss White Metal). All our products have ICC Profiles that are custom made by our in-house color experts.

Rendering Intent

Rendering intent is the algorithm that is used by the Raster Image Processor (RIP) to convert a file from the input (also called source) color profile to the output (also referred to as a printer) profile. The main purpose of the rendering intent is to define the process for handling a color that exists in the input color profile but doesn't exist in the output profile - meaning that the printer is not able to create the specific color in the file. The rendering intent then calculates the closest match color in the output profile and substitutes that color into the output for the color that could not be reproduced.  Sometimes this is called "gamut compression" or "gamut shrink".  There are multiple options for Rendering Intent, at Northwest Fine Art Printing we use the Relative Color Metric setting along with the setting of black point compensation.  

Additional Resources

Here is a list of resources for additional research into what a color managed workflow is, the benefits for Giclee & Fine Art printing, and how to setup and maintain a color managed workflow.

  1. A Color Managed Raw Workflow—From Camera to Final Print - Adobe.
  2. Color Managed Workflow — Krita Manual 5.2.0 documentation.
  3. Top 5 Steps for a Color Managed Workflow | X-Rite Blog.
  4. Color-managing documents, Adobe Acrobat.
  5. Color Management Tutorial, ICC Workflow - Booksmart Studio.
  6. Color Management | X-Rite.

Disclaimer: This information was prepared by our in house certified Color Expert, Matthew Sambrook, with the help of CoPilot AI.